Have you ever been blessed by God?
Jacob wrestled with God. Do you remember the story? He wrestled with God and refused to let go until he received God’s blessing… It got me thinking… what exactly does it mean to be blessed by God?
As I studied the role of blessings in the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I found that although I had a sort of inner sense of what a blessing is, I had difficulty finding the right words to describe it. So, I looked for some definitions.
What does it mean to bless?
If you look up the verb to bless in a dictionary, you will find a variety of related meanings.
- One the one hand, the word bless is used to refer to the act of consecration. Jesus took the five loaves and, looking up to heaven, He blessed them (Luke 9:16).
- Blessing also refers to granting favor. For example, a young man may ask his beloved’s father for his blessing upon their marriage.
- Sometimes we say a person is blessed when they appear to exhibit a special gift or talent.
- Other definitions include: to pronounce a wish of happiness, or to make happy or prosperous.
For me, each of these definitions touches on different aspects of blessing, but none seem to express the full meaning. So, I started digging in the Word.
In the New Testament, Jesus commands His followers to “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:28).” He uses the Greek word, eulogeo, from which we get eulogize. It means literally, to speak well of. So, in other words, Jesus commands us to “speak well of those who curse you…”
Paul uses the same word when he instructs the followers, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse (Rom. 12:14).” And speaking of the damage caused by harsh, disparaging words, James writes, “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; (James 3:9).” Clearly, speaking wholesome and worthy words is a crucial aspect of blessing.
In the beatitudes, when Jesus preaches, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the gentle…” He uses the Greek adjective, makarios, which carries the additional meaning of happiness. So, we may infer that blessing also involves happiness or joy.
When we turn to the Old Testament, we find the Hebrew word barakh translated to bless. Barakh is a primitive root word meaning to kneel. Similarly, the word translated blessing is berakhah, from the words for knee and Lord. Thus, in the Old Testament, the idea of blessing is intimately connected with the worship and adoration of God.
Based on my study, I came up with the following working definition:
- To bless someone is to impart goodness and grace into their life.
Who blesses whom?
Throughout the Old Testament, particularly in Genesis, blessings play an important role:
- God blessed Adam and Eve, saying “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:22, 28).
- God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from His work (Gen. 2:3).
- God blessed Noah and his sons, repeating His blessing to Adam, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 9:1).
Clearly the blessings of God are more than well-wishing. God’s words of blessing carry the grace and power to see them fulfilled.
When God called Abram out of Ur, the promise He made was not only to give him a new homeland, it was a promise of blessing:
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. (Gen. 12:1-4a)
This blessing is the inheritance that Jacob was willing to do anything to receive from Isaac because the blessing of God is more than just words. The promise of blessing was God’s promise to take action, to impart His goodness and grace into the life of Abraham and his descendants.
The goodness and grace of God’s blessing can take many forms. That night when Jacob wrestled with God, he refused to let go until God blessed him. He may not have known what form God’s blessing would take, but he knew the blessing meant God would take action in his life for good.
As we consider this passage, we can discern some distinctive aspects of blessing:
- God may bless an individual. God told Abram, “I will bless you.” God’s blessing to Abraham carried with it the grace and power to prosper him. As he prospered, Abraham gained the influence and good reputation God promised as a result of the blessing.
- God blesses others through those who belong to Him. God promised not only to bless Abraham, but to make him a blessing. Abraham had the opportunity to bless the lives of many during his lifetime, and through his descendants, all the families of the earth have been blessed.
- People can bless one another. As God pointed out, sometimes blessing would come from other people.
I had often wondered about the story of Israel blessing his sons before he died. The story is found in Genesis 49, and details the unique blessing Israel pronounced over each of his sons.
He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him. (Gen. 49:28)
The blessing was considered a very important and sacred ritual, and I had often wondered why. I thought, “I know God’s blessings carry with them the power and grace to see them fulfilled, but is that true of a man blessing his child?” But then I realized how powerful the words of a parent are in the life of a child and that for a parent to openly and publicly declare what he recognizes to be true in the life of his child would be a powerful blessing indeed.
Reading the Psalms, a fourth aspect of blessing is commonly expressed:
- People can bless God. The phrase “Bless the LORD!” is found frequently in the Psalms. For example, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name.” (Psa. 103:1)
As I reconsidered my working definition, I felt that although it seems to fit when the blessing is directed toward man, it seems insufficient to describe man blessing God. Can man impart goodness and grace into the life of God who is Himself the source of all goodness and grace?
For a man to bless God, I believe consideration of the meaning of the Hebrew barakh, to kneel, is critical. Examining how the phrase “Bless the LORD” is used in the Psalms, I noticed two characteristics. First, worthy words of adoration are prominent:
- I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. ( 34:1)
- Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. (Psa. 100:4)
Second, I noticed in Psalm 103:20-22, a strong connection between blessing the Lord and obedience. It reads,
Bless the LORD, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word! Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You who serve Him, doing His will. Bless the LORD, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul! (Psa. 103:20-22)
Taking these differences into account, I expanded my working definition to this:
- When God blesses me, He imparts goodness and grace into my life.
- I bless others by imparting goodness and grace into their lives by my words and actions.
- I bless God by responding to His goodness and grace through adoration and obedience.
Experiencing blessing in our lives
Our God is a God who blesses. Have you ever asked God to bless you?
If you have ever read Bruce Wilkinson’s Prayer of Jabez, you may remember his prayer. Jabez was an obscure descendant of Abraham mentioned briefly in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. Jabez prayed, asking God to bless him, and God granted his request.
One thing I loved about the prayer of Jabez, is that Jabez asked very specifically for God’s blessing, but left it at that. He didn’t tell God exactly how he wanted to be blessed or when he wanted to be blessed. He simply asked God to bless him and left the details in God’s hands.
Asking God for His blessing – for His goodness and grace – is not a selfish prayer. It is like asking for God to make Himself known, because God’s blessing in our lives allows us to see Him more clearly and know Him more fully. When we are blessed by God, our response to His blessing is to return the blessing to Him in adoration and praise.
Have you considered how you might bless others?
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are commanded to return blessing to those who mistreat us. That means we are not to be complaining and bad-mouthing those who cause us trouble, but rather to speak well of them if we must speak of them at all. And even, if God gives us the opportunity, to impart goodness and grace into their lives.
How different would your life be today if you began to take this command of Jesus to heart and put it into practice: “Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.”
Is there someone in your life that God would have you bless?